"When she walked in the door, it was a miracle," exclaims Eileen Morris, who runs the Rent Right program at the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS). The person she's referring to is Marie Fletcher, a soft-spoken but determined volunteer who forged a long-term association with COTS, becoming a mentor for the Rent Right program and helping the residents of the COTS facility.

"When you come from a 'care-giving' profession, you seek out ways to extend that giving," says Marie Fletcher, a mother of four, who was a nurse anesthesiologist in Nebraska, then Texas and finally at Kaiser Hospital in Marin, as well as the president of her professional organization.

While many people would agree with that sentiment in theory, acting upon it is another matter. But through her church, St. Vincent de Paul, Fletcher found a like-minded-soul in 2009, Ed Lampe.

The two became a dynamic volunteering duo whose efforts earned them the title Volunteers of the Year for 2013. Lampe received the honor posthumously, as he died unexpectedly in December.

"We both had a desire to help people and give what we could to make their lives better," recalls Fletcher, who has been locally involved in charitable efforts since the '90s.

As her good friend Claire Pass relates, "In the 1990s Marie and her late husband Dave Fletcher moved to Petaluma to be near their children (six in total between them). They started coordinating the sheltering of the homeless in what was then the vacant convent at St. Vincent's. They cooked for the families and spent the night with them—many times assisting with medical emergency needs."

The Fletchers stepped up their volunteering after they retired in 2003. When Dave Fletcher passed away, Marie continued the efforts they had begun.

"She went from delivering food to the Rent Right classes to becoming a teacher in the program," says Morris. "She still spends hours preparing a nutritious meal, serving it to the 40 to 50 students, and encouraging them with a smile or a kind word, then teaching a six-to-seven person group, and all the while keeping their spirits up. It's at least a 12-hour day for her."

After meeting at St. Vincent's, Fletcher and Lampe discovered that they could combine their interests in charitable giving, cooking and mentoring through the programs at COTS .

They applied their shared love of cooking to enhance food programs at the center. Lampe had always cooked for groups of friends and Fletcher grew up on a ranch where she learned to cook for the hired hands.

Fletcher introduced Lampe to the kitchen at the facility, which led to his first "Iron Chef" experience.

"He had a great time running the kitchen," says Fletcher. "From then on we traded off cooking for the residents and staff at the facility." She recalls that, "Ed got called on Christmas Eve to run the kitchen. He willingly went in to cook a meal for the residents. My kids were here, and my son, who was a chef, said 'I'm going to give him a hand.' And he went over and helped with the meal."

The kitchen serves more than 124,000 meals a year and delivers 750,000-plus pounds of food annually.

Lampe realized his business background could prove useful to the Rent Right program, which mentors families in search of permanent housing.

Once again, he teamed up with Fletcher to offer practical information, presented in an engaging manner that sparked students' interest.

"Ed was just lovely with our folks," says Morris. "He stayed in touch with the students, going to graduations and baptisms."

In December of 2012, Lampe passed away without warning from a heart problem. The outgoing, caring man, who had helped save others at a crisis point in their lives, was unable to be saved himself. In an outpouring of affection, a number of the COTS residents attended the memorial service.

John Records, COTS executive director, noted that, "Ed had a smile for everyone. He was a deep, warm, kind and strong man who cared about people."

Records added of Lampe's volunteering partner: "Marie has been a long-term participant of this community and she is a great choice for this award. By her actions, she sets an example of what is possible in all of us."

Fletcher responds that, "I'm doing what I love, and I believe that when you open up your heart, your heart just gets bigger."

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)